Yes, pro football is a business. But just like other workplaces, there are ties in an NFL locker room that reach beyond paychecks.
Those bonds came up time and again Monday as the Seattle Seahawks put another season behind them and departed the VMAC training facility, some for the final time.
Among those are two dozen Seahawks whose contracts ended Sunday with the 31-24 loss at Carolina. The list includes receiver Jermaine Kearse, a Lakewood native who wants to continue playing near his family and friends. There are also offensive tackle Russell Okung and cornerback Jeremy Lane, NFL veterans who have never worn another team’s uniform. There’s punter Jon Ryan, facing free agency after six seasons of contract stability. And there’s linebacker Bruce Irvin, who said he would consider a multimillion-dollar discount to remain with general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll, who took a chance on him four seasons ago.
“I will always have a genuine appreciation for John and Pete for sticking their neck out there and taking me when everybody said I was a reach and had a lot of baggage that comes with me,” Irvin said. “Those guys, no matter what they said, they still made the decision to pull me at pick 15. Like I said, I understand the business side of it: You can’t keep everybody. I will always love these guys.”
Seattle’s selection of Irvin with the 15th overall pick was one of the controversial decisions of the 2012 draft. Other teams and draft analysts saw Irvin as a pass-rushing specialist, an undersized 245-pound end limited to third-down duty. The Seahawks saw more, eventually converting Irvin into a versatile multiple-down linebacker with size and speed. Through four regular seasons, he has 131 tackles and 22 sacks.
When asked, Irvin suggested he was willing to accept a contract from three to five million dollars below what he might get elsewhere. And reporters weren’t the only ones inquiring.
“Pete and John asked me that when I met with them (Monday morning),” Irvin said.
“If it came to that, I would definitely come back. … I’m established here. These are definitely my brothers. I honestly can’t even imagine myself playing with anybody else, being in a different meeting room, listening to different pregame speeches: It’s crazy to me. … If they matched or it was a little less, I would definitely come back to Seattle.”
On Monday, Carroll declined to discuss the potential contract fates of any of his free agents. However, he generally cited Irvin among a core group of established players the team would like to keep together.
“I’ll tell you that the guys that have been with us, that have helped us become the team that we have become, we want them back,” Carroll said. “We like our team. We like how they contribute, how they fit in, the depth that we have, knowing where they can help us out. Bruce is certainly one of those guys.”
Another is Okung, who Seattle selected out of Oklahoma State with the sixth overall pick in 2010.
Like Irvin, Okung cited personal hopes of remaining in a city and with a franchise that has come to matter to him.
“Seattle will always be a home to me,” he said. “It’s been amazing what the community has been able to do for me, and the people. This will always be a place that I’ll come back to.”
Unlike Irvin and most others, Okung plans to handle his own negotiations.
“I’m still a full head of steam on that,” he said. “I’m not the first one to do it. Hopefully I won’t be the last as well. There are a lot of guys in the past who have done it — not many who’ve done it in the prime of their career. It’s going to be a really interesting experience.”
Seattle’s other free agents are defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin, guard J.R. Sweezy, backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, running back Fred Jackson, linebacker Mike Morgan, defensive end Demarcus Dobbs, fullback Will Tukuafu, defensive back DeShawn Shead, offensive tackle Alvin Bailey, center Patrick Lewis, free safety Steven Terrell, tight ends Cooper Helfet and Chase Coffman, defensive back Marcus Burley, center Lemuel Jeanpierre, linebacker Eric Pinkins and running backs Christine Michael and Bryce Brown.
Under club control, but questionable to return with contract complications of their own are starters such as safety Kam Chancellor and running back Marshawn Lynch.
Lynch appeared briefly in the Seattle locker room Monday, but departed without speaking to the media. However, several teammates spoke glowingly of him.
“As a football player, (Lynch) is phenomenal,” said quarterback Russell Wilson, who signed a new contract before this season. “He’s been a guy who’s been a great leader in terms of his physical nature on the football field and his approach to the game. He has a cool, calming presence out there. He’s one of the greatest running backs ever.”
Also watching with relative security was linebacker Bobby Wagner, who signed a new four-year contract in August.
He was asked what advice he has for this new crop of free agents.
“My advice to them honestly is to stay close with your family and you’re friends,” he said. “You’re going to have a lot of crazy days where you think you’re staying and you think you’re going.
“But I think being around your family, being around your friends is going to give you that peace of mind, give you that much-needed pressure off your shoulders.”